Alright, let's get this out the way straight up. That first cover is ridiculous. And not in a good way. I mean, who looked at that image of a scantily glad gentlemen with enormous green wings on a cliff top and thought, "yup, perfect." I mean, the covers for "Revelation" and "Restoration" aren't exactly awesome either, but compared to 'Transformation...' Yikes.
Which sucks. Because I suspect that that cover is bad enough to stop people from reading this book. Lord knows it came within an inch of stopping me. Which would have been my loss, because crap-tastic packaging aside, these books are surprisingly good.
Aleksander is the heir to an aggressive, conquering empire. Seyonne is a once proud warrior turned slave. Together, they fight crime! Ha, not really. Well, actually...
Ok, so Seyonne's people were this tiny, insular culture who have spent centuries waging a secret war against demon kind. They were the one thing holding back the hoard until, whoops, Aleksander's people come along to butcher and enslave them all. Good going guys.
Berg is skilled at presenting complicated things simply. She doesn't borrow any established mythology for her demons and demon hunters, everything is original to the books. And yet I never had any trouble following it or keeping things straight in my head. Plus, it was very cool, which always helps. I also felt that the various races in the books didn't model "real" cultures too heavily, which was a refreshing change from most fantasy novels I read.
The premise is what grabbed me first though. As a slave Seyonne, who used to be the best demon killer, focuses solely on the present as a way of surviving his slavery. Then he ends up being purchased by Aleksander and noticing, against his better judgement, that Aleksander has some seriously bad ass demon out to get him.
Does Seyonne remain true to the precepts he grew up following, or will his hate get in the way?
The main thing that kept striking me over and over as I read these books is how well done the friendship between Aleksander and Seyonne is. All too often in books if a relationship between two characters is focused on it will inevitably become romantic in nature. True friendship is a rarer best, and I think one harder to pull off. But Carol Berg does it in this trilogy and I was mightily impressed.
Both characters change considerably over the course of three books, and for the most part Berg does not take any easy routes. It's not until we reach the very end of the trilogy that I felt things got a little too neat and rainbows, but I probably only noticed it because she'd been so unflinchingly realistic up until then. I mean, odds are a man enslaved for sixteen years is not going to able to fit neatly back into his old home. Odds are childhood sweethearts are not going to live happily ever after. There are certain things we're used to seeing in fantasy novels, certain ways that things tend to play out, but Berg rarely follows convention. Although please note that while she didn't pull any punches, these books by no means fall into the category of dark fantasy. I don't know how she pulled it off, but all those "dark because dark equals reality yo" authors might benefit from checking these books out.
And there's one last things I want to give Berg props for. You might think as I've only mentioned Seyonne and Aleksander that these are dude heavy books. Not so! The supporting cast is large and populated with fleshed out three dimensional people (and demons) and her female characters in particular were very well done.
Now all props aside I will say that as enjoyable as I found this trilogy, I felt there was a lot of potential that wasn't realised as well. By the end I felt there were just too many things going on at once, and some story lines were seriously neglected or too hastily wrapped up.
But despite that, as embarrassing as it might be to be seen reading a book with such an awful cover, I really think you should give this trilogy a try. (less)
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that I won’t forgive a book for if it gives me fantastic characters. Plot holes? Cliches? Incest? Like the annoying girl you tolerate because her brother is way hot, I’ll welcome all those flaws if the characters are bitching.
And boy are Chelsea M. Campbells characters bitching!
Which is not to say that the book is full of plot holes and clichés. Incest on the other hand… No, I kid. (Although, Damien does spend an unusual amount of time dwelling on this mother’s sex life…) There is little that is clichéd about Renegade X’s plot, which surprised me. Oftentimes in books like this, which is to say books that feature superheros (and villains!) of the author’s own creation, certain characters will mirror other, more well known comic superheros. Perry Moore’s excellent “Hero” for example is peppered full of awfully familiar superheros, including one from another planet whose only weakness is a certain kind of crystal…
There is none of this with Campbell’s superheros. It’s surprising how refreshingly original they are. Even when their abilities are not so unique, such as shape shifting or flying, Campbell avoids comparison with “real” superheros completely.
And there are no major plot holes, or at least none that immediately jump out me. Well, no, that’s not true. I did wonder why, if every villain is clearly identifiable by the V on their thumb, were they not all just thrown in prison? Or at the very least why were they allowed to have a school where torture and mayhem were on the curriculum? (Nothing in the text suggested that Villmore’s purpose was a secret to the general public). The world building, perhaps, is a little scarce, but Campbell outlines the “rules” of her universe clearly enough and then sticks to them.
But these faults are niggely and, as I said, the characters! Oh man, the characters make up for everything! She could name her heroes Superguy and Wonder Lady and have more plot holes than Twilight and I would still be here raving about this book.
Damien, in particular, is excellently written. There is much to be said in favour of characters who are always quick with the right comeback, who say the things that we would never dare to. This type of character is common in speculative fiction, think your Loche Lamoras and Kvothes, and Damien has this element in spades (his snarky sense of humour had me laughing out loud more than once, and I’m normally a very quite reader). But unlike the other dashing anti-heroes I’ve mentioned, Damien would also fit in very nicely in a mainstream YA novel. Something witty by John Green or David Levithan.
This is because, despite his super powers, Damien is a kid a kid with a set of problems that any coming of age novel would be happy to have. He’s meeting his Dad for the first time, he’s worried that his Mum has less time for him now she has a new boyfriend, he still has feelings for his ex and on top of it all he has to decide if he wants to devote the rest of his life to good or evil. Well, ok, maybe that last one is not so common…
The rest of the cast is just as well fleshed out as Damien, with all of them from main to minor, expertly toeing the line between realistic and comic book over the topness.
Fans of good old fashioned YA coming of age tales, and fans of comic books, and especially fans of both will find much to love here.(less)
So if you buy a book solely because the cover is beautiful, or because the title is intriguing, then you accept the risk that the book might be not so good. But when you buy a book because you've seen it mentioned all over the place and because the plot sounds like ten different kinds of awesome, then you're your expectations might be somewhat higher. And yet, sometimes, the spur of the moment book will be fantastic and the anticipated one, well, let's turn our attention to Nights of Villjamur.
A city scrambling to prepare for a fast approaching ice age, masses of desperate refugees pushing at its walls, is left leaderless when the emperor commits suicide. Someone, or something, is killing of important council members, and a dark cult is making a grab for power. Zombie like creatures are shambling around the countryside and a war is brewing. Seriously, all that stuff happens in this book. All that stuff and then some. A plot like that, you might say its a bit too ambitious, maybe a bit too much action and excitement for one average sized book. But you almost certainly wouldn't look at that and say it sounds boring.
I went into Nights of Villjamur expected to be challenged, and challenged I was. But it wasn't because the plot was so complex, the prose so twistedly weird, no, the challenge was to finish the damn thing. A challenge I failed.
The problem, well, one of the problems, is that Mark Charan Newton is all tell and no show. I can't think of one examples in the three quarters of the book I made it through where Newton actually shows something. It's all, 'Bob walked down the stairs, he was tired and also a little hungry. He passed John, who he didn't like because four years ago he cheated at a game of poker.' Obviously that's not a dirct quote, but seriously you could open it to any page and find a quote not much better.
This telling over showing is particularly evident when we look the character Brynd. He's commander of the elite night guard, an albino, and a closeted homosexual. Everyone mistrusts him because he's an albino. I know this not because we ever actually see anyone mistrusting him, but because he, you guessed it, tells us. Or other characters will think, 'here come Brynd, I don't trust him because of his freaky white skin.' Another book I read recently had a character who, like Brynd, was an outcast because of their genetics. I'm referring to Jant Shira, from the excellent Castle trilogy. Throughout this books we see other characters too unnerved to meet Jant's eyes, obviously highly uncomfortable in his presence. He obviously makes people nervous. No one ever acts like Brynd bothers them, they just tell us he does.
Or there's an evil council member dude who wants to take control of the city, and to do that he wants to start a war. So he goes to the head armorer and says, 'tell everyone this arrow was made in our enemy nation.' And the armorer is all like 'uh, no.' And then the councilor says, 'do it or I'll beat the living shit out of you.' No, really, he's that subtle. And then later he thinks about how he's got to go do some more clever manipulating. Ah, excuse me? Straight up threats do not a master manipulator make...
The characters lack any real depth, and there's definitely no mystery to them. How can there be when they tell us everything? The telling is even worse when it's done in dialogue. 'How do you feel about your boss?' Asks character a. 'I used to like him but now I don't because he didn't promote me.' Who actually talks like that? It also feels like the characters interact only on a most superficial level. The emperor, for example, beat his wife and possibly also murdered her. And yet Brynd, his most trusted adviser, seems to have no opinion about it. Newton also has a some little writing quirks that he repeats a lot, most annoyingly in the dialogue of different characters, which makes them sound very similar. (Also, at one point some random character suddenly realises that he's never liked communal toilets. How do you suddenly realise something you've always known?)
Mostly I'm just really disappointed. This book had such crazy amounts of potential, and I felt like the character of Brynd in particular could have been pretty amazing. Could have been, would have been, but ultimately wasn't. Maybe the next books in this serious are better, but as I couldn't even finish this one I don't know if I'll ever find out.(less)
One of the most unique reading experiences for me in a long time was Gemma Files' "Book of Tongues." (I recommend reading that one before reading this review.) The book was not without its flaws, but I'd take flawed and interesting over perfect and safe any day of the week, believe me.
Not surprising then that I dived straight into its sequel, and book two of Hexslinger trilogy, "Rope of Thorns" as soon as it arrived at my doorstep. As always with a sequel I began with a small amount of trepidition. Would this book be as good as the first one? All too often it seems that the answer to that question turns out to be no. But not this time my friends. Not this time!
I loved "Rope of Thorns." It was everything "Book of Tongues" didn't quite manage to be, and all of the faults (all of them!) that I found with the Hexslinger Trilogy's first book had been addressed.
Despite having a lot less narrator time this go around, the character of Ed Morrow finally became real to me. There's a genuine goodness in Ed that's lacking from the other men in these books, but for all that he's just as capable as Chess or Rook as committing acts of great violence. It was a contrast I found fascinating.
Instead of Ed most of this book was told from the point of view of Mister Chess Partager himself. I didn't reread "Book of Tongues" before starting this one (way too eager!) but I'm fairly sure there wasn't any Chess point of views in it. He's an enigmatic figure in many ways, and when I realised I was seeing things through his eyes I was concerned that it would "ruin" the mystery of him. Not so! If anything the greater insight into the workings of Chess's, uh, shall we say unique? mind only made him more interesting to me. And more sympathetic, by a mile!
Ah, poor Chess. Rook's monstrous betrayal has changed him, that's for sure. And you have to feel for the guy. There's one scene where he has to stay in disguise while a song is sung about how every bad thing Rook ever did is pretty much all Chess' fault, and I don't remember the last time I felt so keenly for a character. I kept oscilating between wanting Chess and Rook to somehow work things out, and and wanting Chess to just blow Rook's smug head clean off. Or maybe some combination of both?
We have some new characters this time around, the most noteworthy of this being Experiance "Yancy" Kloves, who neatly takes care of complaints that these books lack women. Yancy is a capable, practical young woman, but she manages to be so while staying true to the time period, in my opinion. There was a dry humour to her point of view that really appealed to me, and I enjoyed watching Chess try and figure out exactly what to do with her.
Personally my biggest issue with "Book of Tongues" was that the plot tended to jump around a bit haphazardly. But in "Rope of Thorns" things are pretty much linear. There's an interlude set in Rook's newly founded Hex city (very interesting. It was satisfying watching him realise the enormity of his mistakes, and I'll be very interested to see how things in Hex City play out in the next book) but other than that we stick with Chess and his entourage, without even any flashbacks.
Really "Rope of Thorns" is everything you hope for in a sequel, but so rarely get. The plot is advanced, a greater understanding of characters is granted, new and interesting characters are introduced. Files' prose remains a delight to read, the cadence of her sentences captures the wild west setting perfectly, and the images she paints are a fascinating mix of frontier practicality and magic bred surrealism.
I came to this book via a rather controversial review on Tor.com. (Although you should note the review has some stuff in it that I think is a little spoilerish). This is another example of how a negative review can influence someone to seek out a book just as much as a positive one. (A fact that seems lost on the commenting editor from Voyager). Mark Lawrence's 'Prince of Thorns' was always going to split opinions. The main character is a fourteen year old prince who's spent the last four years leading a band of morrally bankrupt men across the countryside, leaving a trail of murder and rape in their paths.
I hope I never meet anyone like sociopathic Jorg in real life, but I have to admit I loved reading about the little monster. The book is told from his first person point of view, and the inside of this kid's mind is fascinating, in a terrifying kind of way. He operates to a different set of rules to the other characters in the books, (mostly because they see people as people, a trick Jorg hasn't got the hang of yet) and this allows him to pull off some pretty audacious moves. I got a real kick out of seeing him outwit men twice his age.
But! As witty and sharp as Jorg's voice is, (truly, his inner monologue is a wicked delight to read) style is not enough to carry a whole book. Whereas some authors can get away with neglecting character arcs, that is just not an option here. Jorg is a monster when the book opens, and as a reader I had to trust that he would change. It's not that there are not plenty of books out there with characters who start bad and end worse, because their are. It's just that Jorg is so young. Ok, call me a sap, but I was only able to enjoy this book by believing that there was a chance for Jorg to find some small amount of redemption.
And there were hints throughout the book that he might. This is only part one of a trilogy, so obviously everything was not puppies and rainbows by the end. But Jorg had changed, he had grown. We caught a few glimpses of something that might have been remorse, there was the suggestion of depths to Jorgs character beyond murder and mayhem. Enough to make me very intrigued to see how Jorg's character will grow across the next two books.
There other thing that really, really impressed me about this book was the world building. What first presents as your fairly standard medieval world is slowly and subtly revealed to be something else entirely. I really can't praise high;y enough how Lawrence slowly revealed the truth of his world. It reminded me of season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Dawn is introduced. At first you're all "what is this madness? Do the writer's think we're dumb?" but then it turns out they had a plan all along. Mark Lawrence has a plan, people. I apologise if this all seems a litte vague, but honestly half the fun I had with this book came from figuring the world out, and I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
The thing most people, even those who didn't like it, praise about this book is the prose itself. They're right to praise it, there is a wit and economy to Lawrence's writing that is really impressive. But there are many other things to be enjoyed here as well, if the reader is willing to trust in Lawrence's overall plan. (less)
You can’t help but admire an author with the audacity to open a book with an almost 200 page battle scene. No, that wasn’t a typo. The sprawling fight that opens Sam Sykes’ ‘Tome of the Undergates’ is as long as some novellas. It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to ignore the rules like that, and I tip my hate to Mr. Sykes for it.
In fact, I tip my hate twice, because unconventional as the opening was, I enjoyed every second of it. This surprised me, because I have a tendency to skim over fight scenes in books, even when I’m already attached to the characters. But Syke’s prose is crisp and tempered with a unique kind of humour that my interest was held from the get go, even though my investment in his characters was zero. I actually really liked the way each character was introduced mid fight. It was a change from how these things are normally done, and watching how each adventurer reacted to life threatening danger provided deep insight into them right from the get go.
Sykes' characters are definitely on the Abercrombie end of the Tolkien/Abercrombie character morality scale. I wouldn’t say unlikable, although plenty of people have, but certainly they have their flaws. It might be because they all claim to hate each other so much that their worst traits keep showing up, or maybe it’s just because they’re adventurers. Still, I found there was something to like in each of them, which stopped all their bad sides from being too much. On the downside I would have liked to see more character growth as the book progressed. They went from hating each other to…. Still hating each other. From being happy to let each other die to… Being happy to let each other die. Plus, man, the self pity! They hate each other, they hate themselves, come on guys! It’s not all bad!
Enough about them, let’s talk plot. The book opens at a hurtling pace and continues on that way. There are no pauses to let the reader no what’s going, you have to figure it out for yourself. Which might bug some people, but I am a fan of working shit out for myself. So, we have a team of adventurers (who rank somewhere below cockroaches in this universe) who are on a ship providing protection to some priestly fellow and his tome. Or should I say Tome with a capital 'T,' because this is one important book. The ship is best by adversaries, the Tome is stolen, and the adventurers must retrieve it against all odds. Now there’s nothing wrong with a simple plot, but I think ‘Tome of the Undergates’ was too simple. Some obstacles or complication to the adventurer’s quest would have been welcome.
Furthermore, while I hugely enjoyed the action filled opening to the book, once that battle ended and the gang set off in search of the Tome my enjoyment began to slip. Sykes handles scenes of high action extremely well, but he seems lost when it came to quieter, more introspective moments. It seemed a bit like the characters were just standing around, waiting for the next fight start. Instead of skimming the battles, I found myself skimming all the stuff between battles, which was certainly a first for me. Overall the book felt like fight scenes linked by filler, like a d-grade action movie.
Honestly, I think if I hadn’t enjoyed the actual style of Sykes’s prose so much I would have given up on this one. There’s a really unique, almost visceral quality to the way he writes, and an almost total lack of clichés. Plus, and I know I mentioned this earlier but I’ll say it again for emphasis, Sam Sykes is wicked funny. Every sentence drips with cynical humour, but the it never comes across as too joke heavy. It’s an overall air of cleverness, instead of joke after joke.
I will give the next book in this series, ‘Black Halo’ a try. I feel like even though ‘Tome of the Undergates’ may have neglected character growth and plot, there is real potential there. And if nothing else I know it will be written with style.(less)
So you might remember that I was not a fan of Ari Marmell's Conqueror's Shadow. I've started to suspect that my dislike for that book might lie more with me than the actual writing, because I've since read another well received novel and had very similar problems with it.
I'm talking about Kevin Hearne's Hounded. I saw positive reviews for it all about the place, with liberal usage of words like "clever," "funny" and "intelligent." But while I actually finished this one, I can't say that I particular enjoyed it. My biggest issue, as it was with Conqueror's Shadow, is that the author created a heavy back story for his protagonist, but it doesn't seem to weigh on the character at all.
The hero of Hounded is Atticus O'Sullivan, an Irish Druid who's trying to lay low with his stolen sword in Arizona. He's also two thousand years old. Dude is older than Christ, not that you would ever suspect it. And not just because he's eternally 21 in appearance, but because his 2000 years of living haven't seemed to really effect him. I would think that living for a couple of centuries would make a guy question the point to life, make him wonder what comes next, that sort of thing. At one point he offhandly mentions that he fathered a son a few hundred years back, but it's not brought up again. Surely watching your own offspring grow old and die would mess a guy up a little? I'm not saying I wanted him to be as angst filled and existentially crises-ed as Anne Rice's vampires, but I would have liked to see him be a little darker as a result of his extended life span.
But not so. Early in the book he bargain's to extend his lie even further, and no real motiation is given for this. Now, if you were dealing with a character facing a human life span you'd probably get away with that, the motivation would be obvious. But Atticus has already lived for 2000 years, honestly I would expect a little more. Is he that terrified of dying? Does he have unfinished business on the mortal plane? Nope, he's just wants to keep on living. Or something. The decision is literally given zero explanation, as though the reasons should be totally obvious.
It all seemed just a little too shallow and light to me. I couldn't really believe that a 2000 year old druid would be as happy as Atticus. The guy runs an occult book store and sells teas with names that are really, really, terrible puns. He's been doing this for a while, and doesn't seem at all bored with it. Admittedly, we do get little hints of a less breezy side of him. He's extremely paranoid for example, but his paranoia seems only to benefit him and certainty we don't see it having any negative effect on his life or relationships which realistically it would. There's also one moment where we briefly mentions that if came down to living or dying he would easily abandon his friends and his beloved wolf hound to die. Now that fascinated me, and was exactly the kind of darkness I would have expected to see more of. It's obvious that Atticus places living above all else, I just wish we got some hint as to why. Maybe in future books?
But as I said as the start of this review, I'm fairly sure the problem here lies with me. Most people seemed to really enjoy this book, and it is an easy read. It sets out to be a light and entertaining read, and it hits that mark perfectly. It's me that wanted it to be something else. If you're the kind who tends to over think stuff, you might be the same. (less)
I back and forthed about buying this book for the longest time. When it was only newly released I dismissed it mostly because of its cover. But then I read some good reviews of it. But then I read some bad reviews. But then I read a really good review that made it sound right up my alley, and I came really close to buying it then. But then the author came over all passive aggressive on twitter over a mildly poor review of his book, and it turned me right off. Finally my finance got sick of me picking it up and putting it back whenever we were in a bookshop and bought it for me.
And my yes/no relationship with the book was destined to continue, as for the whole time I was reading it I kept changing my mind over whether or not I liked it.
The concept was a tick in the like box, definitely. A Norse king with no sons follows a prophesy to a village where he plans to pillage himself an heir. Problem is, the prophecy promised one baby boy, and he finds two...
However I found it really hard to get into Lachlan's writing style. It was too detached for me, and too often leaned on telling rather than showing. At times it was more like reading a newspaper article than a novel. It was like a man with no personal involvement was detailing something that had happened a long time ago, and the lack of warmth and immediacy really stopped me from becoming invested in the book.
And it really stopped me from caring about the characters, which as you know, is where a book lives or dies for me. It was frustrating, because while in the narrative the characters were treated almost clinically, in the dialogue they shone. Lachlan's dialogue was pretty brilliant, infused with genuine wit and life. Which only made all those stuff outside the quote marks seem all the less so. The MC Vali, for example, had some really funny one liners in his dialogue, yet in the narrative there was hint of him being witty, or being anything at all really.
It didn't matter so much during scenes of high action, and really these were then scenes I enjoyed most throughout the book. Lachlan has the knack of taking complicated battles and making them easy to follow, and exciting to boot. But in the quieter moments where you might expect to see some character development the book was sorely lacking, and action will only take you so far.
By the end I found I was skimming over the text in the barest way possible. I wanted to see how the book ended, but I didn't really care how it ended, if that makes sense.
The unanimous opinoion seems to be that the book's sequel, Fenrir, improves massively upon Wolfsangel. So I may continue on this series, but then again I may not.(less)
It pleases me to see that Australian author Jennifer Fallon is slowly starting to receive some well deserved international attention. Her recent ‘Tide Lords’ quartet garnered a couple of positive reviews, and I’ve seen some blogs posting about her latest series ‘The Undivided.’
But I want to talk now about one of her older, less known, set of books; The Second Sons trilogy, comprising of 'The Lion of Senet,' 'Eye of the Labyrinth,' and 'Lord of the Shadows.' It’s a shame that these books haven’t received a lot more attention, because they’re really pretty great.
The title "Second Sons" is a clever little play on words. The trilogy concerns it self with the second sons of two powerful families, but the plot also hinges on the second sun in the world's sky. Ranadon has two suns you see, a large one which sets like ours, and a second one which never sets. Except for this one time when it did. A generation or so ago the second sun set, ushering in a disastrous dark age. And here’s where things get interesting. A super genius dude was able to predict when the dark age would end (with the power of maths!), and he told his priestess friend. She uses this information to convince the big ruler dude, aka The Lion of Senet, to sacrifice his son to end the dark age, and because she knows the time it will end it appears the goddess was talking through her.
But (the plot thickens) the super genius dude didn’t just predict when the dark age would end, he predicted when the next one would start. And priestess girl, who’s now insanely powerful high priestess lady, kind of needs that info to maintain her credibility. (It would be bad for her health if the ruler found out he sacrificed his first born for nothing…) Too bad super genius guy hasn’t been seen in decades.
But! There is another young lad with the brainpower to figure it out. This is Dirk, one of the "second sons" in the title. He and the Lion of Senet's son Kirsh are the main tagonists of the books. Not a typo. Tagonsts. It's a word I just made up. They're not protagonists (good guys), they're not antagonists (bad guys), they're just people. They do good things, they do shitty things, and believe me when I say they'll break your heart. This true for most of the characters in the trilogy. There is no black and white here, trust me. The Lion of Senet, in particular, is very well done. It would have been easy to make him a straight up villain, what with him killing his own son and all. But Fallon makes him a far more complex character than that. He’s fanatical in his his religious views, and a lot of the plot is driven by this. But what choice does the guy have? To admit that his religion might not be all-knowing would be to admit that he sacrificed his son for nothing. It makes for compelling reading let me tell you.
And the ending. Ah, the ending. It’s one of those ends that hits you like a punch to the gut, that stays with you for months or years or hell, probably the rest of your life. Years later and I find myself thinking of these books at odd times, running over in my mind the course of events that made things in the final volume play out the way they did. There is nothing so impressive as a book drawing to a perfect and inevitable close, with all the small pieces set in place over the three books leading to one magnificent finale.
They're not perfect, I'll admit that. These were written early in Fallon's career when she was still smoothing out her prose a little. She gets a bit heavy with the adverbs (he said sadly, she yelled angrily, he sighed ecstatically, and so on) but it's certainty not enough to ruin the enjoyment of the story.(less)
The first thing that struck me about Break was how nice it was to read a YA book that didn't revolve around or devote a huge chunk of itself to romance. Jonah already has a girlfriend, (well, kind of), and while he likes her a whole heap he doesn’t obsess over her or doubt her feelings or worry overmuch about the relationship or any of that standard YA jazz. Break is a book hugely concerned with relationships, just not the teenagers in love kind.
This a book about family. Jonah has a brother, Jesse, who is allergic to pretty much everything. Regular trips to the emergency room kind of allergic. Good chance of dying young kind of allergic. His parents weren’t coping so well with it before, and they’re coping even less now there’s a new baby in the house. It doesn’t help that milk is among the many, many, many things Jesse is allergic to, and with a new baby there’s a lot more of it around. It’s a family on the edge of breaking, (that point between broken and unbroken is a running theme through this aptly titled novel) and Jonah is doing everything he can to hold it together.
It’s a lot of stress for a 17 year old kid, which probably explains why Jonah has also gone a little bit nuts. So apparently when you break a bone it heals stronger. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Jonah certainly believes it is, and that’s why he’s embarked on a mission to break every bone in his body. As crazy as this sounds Jonah actually has a well thought out system of logic behind his quest, and slowly figuring out where his mind was at with this was one of my favourite aspects of the book. (Hint: it's not as obvious as you might think).
But still, ouch much? I don’t if the author Hannah Moskowitz broke a bunch of bones when she was a kid or maybe in the name of art she went out and broke a bunch for research, but she has the descriptions of it down. The anticipation of pain, the sick feeling, the crunch… It’s not so hard, I think, for an author to make a reader feels empathetic pain, but to make them feel physical pain along with the character… Moskowitza pulls it off, and I don’t know whether to be impressed or annoyed at her. There’s one scene where Jonah dives into an empty pool that made my heart physically race it was so awful. I don’t want to give the impression that the book is full of gore or going for cheap shocks, because it’s not like that at all. But it is definitely full on!
Another thing I liked was the relationship between Noah and his brother. But then, I’m a real sucker for brothers. I liked the way Jesse was obviously so fed up with Jonah’s overbearing concern, but at the same time obviously cares about him and panics at the thought of being without him. Similarly I liked that Jonah cared for Jesse so much, but at the same time resented him just a little. Their relationship was complex and convincing.
Less convincing were the parents. I had trouble accepting that they could be so very bad at looking after Jesse and dealing with his allergies. Or that they could be so blind to the fact that their other son was regularly doing himself serious damage. It’s not that I doubt such parents exist, they just seemed to be a bit over the top with their failing in this book.
I also had some issues towards the end of the book. (No spoilers, I promise). Jonah starts to unravel, and really strange things start to happen. I initially thought it was an excellent example of an unreliable narrator, that Jonah was really, really losing it and his perception of reality was slipping. But by the end of the book this appears to have not been the case, which kind of ruined things for me a bit. I mean, some of these things were really bizarre or just straight up weren’t explained at all.The ending is really abrupt, so maybe that's where my issue lies. Things went nuts and then things just ended.
Moskowitz had a really tight hold on the plot for the first three quarters of the book, so it was a shame to see it unravel all over the place like it did at the end.
Despite this, I still found Break to be highly engaging and also very, very interesting. I recommend it, especially if you're looking for a YA read that isn’t all about the make outs.(less)
So whenever I think about how "good" a book is there always appears in my mind a spectrum. On one end we have PLOT and on the other end there is CHARACTER. I feel like the books that could most objectively be called "the best" fall right smack in the middle of these two things, a perfect mix of plot and characters. But to be honest the books I love best tend to be way unbalanced, in favour of the character side of things. Objectively I can admit that these books might not be the most expertly crafted, but I care not at all. It's characters or GTFO for me folks, all the way.
Storm Constantine's Wreaththu trilogy (read by me in a convenient omnibus version) was the perfect example of this. Most of the reviews I see of these three books (that aren't dealing with the role playing game that has apparently been developed around them) complain that the plot is a bit lacking. And they're right. I can see that they're right. Do I care? Not really. Because dude, I dug these books.
The premise that at some point in the future humanity has began to evolve intoa higher form called wraeththu. Wraththu are beautiful and awesome and just, like, so totally superior to mankind in every single way. Or so they like to think of themselves. Really the wraeththu are just as flawed as man is, just in slightly different ways. The blurb of the omnibus edition made out like these books would deal with mankind's struggle not to be replaced. Which was crazy misleading, because there is no struggle. Mankind has lost. It is the final twilight of man. Really the books deal with the the establishment of wraththu society, and how the new race struggles to find it's own identity without falling into the same behaviors that ruined mankind.
The three books span a decent amount of time, and when we start out the wraeththu are little more than separate waring tribes, and by the end we see that civilizations start to form. This isn't the point to the books and mostly happens in the background, but it's pretty cool to see the subtle evolution.
I will say that the fact they were written in the 80s shows like crazy. The apololyptic wasteland of the first book just screams early nineties, mad max/tank girl, and the extended ruminations of gender read as dated to me. But still interesting. The wraeththu are both male and female, and they either start of as male humans and are "turned" to wreaththu, or, later in the series, pure wraththu babies start being born. The contrast in how turned and born wraththu dealt with gender was fascinating.
You'll note I still really haven't talked about plot. It's not fair to say that there is no plot, because there is! Book 1 deals with turned wraeththu Pelaz, who is being groomed by a higher being to be the supreme emporer of the world. The only problem is Pelaz' unforturnate choice of lover, Cal. Of the three books this was my least favourite, as Pelaz is a fairy cold and removed protagonist. It's not terrible though, but the final two volumes are worlds better.
Book two, and my favorite, revolves around born wraeththu Swift. It's basically a coming of age tale, and I'm a sucker for the coming of age tale. And it's a really good one. Swift's father is just a little bit evil (but still painfully sympathetic to the reader), and his hostling (mother, basically) is just a little bit batshit insane, and poor Swift is one of the first pure wraeththu babies to be born, so it's not like he has anyone to tell him what to expect as he grows up.
The last book focus' on Cal, who continues to be the spanner in the works of many a well laid plan, as he fights against his inevitable destiny. Cal is. Well. Cal is Cal. Beautiful and sharp and funny and more than a little bit broken. This is the only book he narrates, but he appears across all three and it was a delight to watch how our understanding of him grows as we see him from first Pelaz's point of view, and then Swift's, and then finally his own.
Really, if you're going to read these books, you're going to do it for the characters. They're beautifully written, sympathetic and consistent. The plot? I mean, yeah, it's there. But the endings get wrapped up way too easily (more often than not by using the power of magical wreaththu sex. No really), but the flaws in plotting do not at all detract from these books. Assuming you love characters as much as I do, that is.(less)
So like many, many others I read Mieville's Kraken. I don't have any thoughts on that one that others (many, many others) have not posted, so I don't think I'll add another review to the teeming pile. Let's just say that overall I enjoyed it but upon completion my brain felt like it had run a marathon. I decided to read something light and easy to recover.
And The Conqueror's Shadow seemed like it would fit that bill. Except that I barely made it a quarter of the way in before I gave up and found something else to read.
What happened? My suspension of belief is what happened. You know, that ability to believe what ever outlandishness the author is selling you in order to enjoy the story. I've been reading pretty much exclusive sci-fi and fantasy since I was nine years old. I thought my suspension of disbelief was made out of the same stuff as Wolverine's bones. Unbreakable.
Talking dragons? Sure. Secret world of magic? Ok. Zombie plague? Why the hell not? I mean come on, I just read a book about a god-Kraken and my biggest issue was an excess of wordplay, not the idea of a missing squid heralding the end of the world. But I just couldn't get my head to accept the premise of The Conqueror's Shadow long enough to enjoy it.
You see, there's this evil dark lord character, Corvus. The Scourge of the East or some such. He wants to rule the kingdom and devoted a great deal of effort to the cause, recruiting an army of orcs and goblins to do his bidding. Cities fall, countless innocent people are murdered, you know the drill. Then something goes wrong, he nabs a young, pretty hostage and abandons his army. Fast forward a whole bunch of years and he's living the quite life on a little farm with the hostage, who's now his loving wife.
Corvus is now a loving father and doting husband and all round nice guy. And here's where the book lost me. I just couldn't buy it. This guy caused countless people untold suffering, and all in all he seems pretty ok with it.
The premise of this book really intrigued me. A now retired dark lord has to return to his old ways to save the land from a new rising evil. I was expecting a kick ass anti hero. Not necessarily haunted by his past, but at least affected by it. Something akin to Lucifer from Gaiman's Sandman series. But honestly, Corvus does not read like an anti-hero. He reads like a hero-hero, and if you didn't already know about the things he'd done you wouldn't suspect it for a second. I'm sorry, but if you were responsible for the fall of a whole bunch of cities and the deaths of thousands of people, you don't get to be a hero-hero. It's a deal breaker.
It's as though the author was worried the reader wouldn't be able to sympathise with an evil mass murderer, so he goes too far in the other direction to make us like him. Oh, he didn't want to kill all those people, it was a necessary evil and so on. Honestly, it made me lose respect for Corvus. If he had have stood behind the things he'd done it would have made for an interesting and unique perspective. The fact that he was such a nice guy made me dislike more, and above all I just couldn't believe it.
So, I stopped reading. Which means that as the book progresses Corvus might have dropped the nice guy facade, I don't know. If he does, feel free to tell me in the comments and I might give the book enough shot. Because it was written well enough, with a whole bunch of genuinely funny one-liners. And if your suspension of disbelief can handle it you may well get more out of this one than I did. (less)
I like romance in my books. Big fan of it, in fact. Big, sweeping, epic romance is right up my alley, and considering how fussy I am with most thinks I’m remarkably happy with any kind of romance. Heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, it all works for me. Hell, I’m even secretly hoping that Jaime and Cersie will work things out, those crazy kids.
So, yes, I like the romance. But, and this is an important distinction, I tend to not like romance novels.* The reason why I don’t like romance novels was clearly illustrated to me, in case I had forgotten, when I decided to read Gail Carriger’s 'Soulless.' 'Soulless' had a cool sounding plot, and a eye catching cover, and I’d seen it described as ‘mannerpunk’ which tickled my fancy, so even though I knew it was technically a romance novel, I still picked it up.
It’s set in your standard Victorian steampunk world, one wherein Vampires and Werewolves live out in the open and in relative peace with normal humans. Alexia, our heroin, is unfashionably Italian, and entirely without a soul. I could not stop thinking about the Simpsons' episode where Bart sells his, but Alexia seems to suffer none of the problems that plagued Bart. Instead the only real ramification seems to be that whenever a vampire or werewolf comes into contact with her, they are rendered wholly mortal.
Pretty cool idea. And there are plenty of those in this book. The world is well drawn and interesting, and the characters are fleshed out nicely. I was a big fan of Alexandria’s flamboyant vampire friend and his army of well dressed spies, who in my opinion did not get nearly enough page time. Of Alexia herself, well. Not a fan, let’s say. Which I’ll freely admit is all on me. I’m just not a fan of that particular breed of female character. Overly stubborn, quick to offense, ridiculously opinionated and Quirky with a capital Q. (First person to suggest that I dislike them because they remind me of myself gets a whollop.) They just annoy me, and Alexia is the worst I’ve seen in a while. But, despite my personal misgiving, she’d still well crafted and I don’t doubt many out there will like her.
And in the first few chapters there seemed to be a lot of potential for the plot. Someone out there is making “unlicensed” vampires, rogue werewolves are disappearing, and a mysterious society of academics has set up shop. And here’s where we come to why I do not like romance novels, (usually. There are exceptions!). Because too often a romance novel is not about the plot, it’s about the romance. Rather, the romance is the plot. All of the cool plot happenings in 'Soulless' operate in the background while the romance plays out in the foreground. The plot is really only there to give Alexia and gruff werewolf detective Conall an excuse to interact, and as the novel progresses it works only as a means to force them together and result in more makeouts. (And, really, is being held in a cell the best time to be undressing each other? I have to think not…)
I understand, obviously, that a romance novel is going to feature a lot of romance. I guess I just want it to not be all about the romance to the determent of everything else. Alexia’s soullessness was never really explored, and the mystery of the missing werewolves and newborn vampires was wrapped up neatly and ridiculously obviously. Like, so obvious that you spend most of the book assuming that it must be a red herring, because surely it wouldn't be that obvious...
Despite these negative words, I don’t doubt for a second that a lot of people would enjoy this book. (And I know for a fact that Carriger has a huge following). It’s well written, and the romance between Alexia and Conall is engaging. I just wish that there was more to the book then just the romance.
I doubt I’ll read on further in this series, and I’m sure it will be a while before I try another romance novel. (Although, if you have any recommendations for one that doesn’t stomp on its own plot, I’d be glad to hear it!)
*Please note that all comments about the romance genre are my own opinion. I’ve read very few romance novels and am in no position to comment of the genre as a whole with any kind of authority authority. Peace!(less)
I follow and read a lot of book review blogs. Like, a lot. Sometimes I feel like I read more book reviews then, you know, actual books. Some people question the worth of reading reviews, because after all books are highly subjective and what one person likes you might not and so on. But I think you have to approach reading reviews in the right way. I mean, if there’s a reviewer whose tastes always line up with yours then you might avoid a book just because they didn’t like it, but I think any good reviewer provides enough information that even if they didn’t like the book, you can take their review and make up your own mind.
Which brings me to Gemma Files’ “Book of Tongues.” A book I had never heard of until Calico Reaction posted a review of it. Now, Calico was not a fan of this book, indeed she didn’t even finish it. But she neatly outlines the things that didn’t work for her personally, and they kinda sounded like things that would work for me. So I tracked the book down, and I’m very glad I did.
I honestly don’t understand why this book is not getting more mentions across the reviewing corner of the blogosphere. Not because it’s necessarily fantastically awesome, (although I rather think it is), but because it’s hugely ambitious. I think it’s the kinda book that you have to feel strongly about, either love it or hate it, and it’s these kind of books I’m used to seeing discussions of.
It’s set right after the American civil war in an America where some people are “hex’s.” That is, men or women with some pretty trippy magical powers that manifest on the onset of menstruation (if you’re a women) or upon suffering serious bodly harm (if you’re a man). A really cool twist on the idea is that to hex’s can not spend any long length of time together as they will involuntarily suck the power out of each other until one is dead. When being hung for a crime he didn’t commit Reverend Asher Rook learns he has some serious power going on, and he turns outlaw along with the rest of his army regiment. (Regement? Unit? I don’t know, I’m not down with military lingo…)
This regiment includes one Chess Pargeter, also known as the reason I loved this book so very much. He’s a whore turned Reverend Rook’s fiercely loyal lover, he’s an indiscriminate murderer, he’s more than a little bit crazy and he definitely makes the book for me. The best character I can think of to compare Chess to is George R. R. Martin’s Jamie Lannister. You start out completely disgusted by him, and by the end he’s your absolute favourite (at least if you’re me). Not that I’m equating being gay with having an incestuous relationship with your sister! It’s more the way that Chess kills so freely and so gleefully, he seems wholly without empathy and it’s easy to dislike him. But by the time the novel ended my heart had broken for him ten times over, and I was cheering for him to come out on top. The transition is completely natural, I couldn’t even tell you the moment Chess went from zero to hero for me, and without changing the core of his character either.
It took George Martin four massive tomes to pull that off with Jamie, and Gemma Files does it in just a couple of hundred of too short pages. Impressive? Very. The other characters were just as skilfully crafted. The character arc of Reverend Rook was just as dramatic as Chess’s, and the skill it took to pull it off even more impressive. There is an almost complete lack of women, but given the setting and nature of the book I’m willing to forgive that. (And while the female hex Songbird felt a little flat to me, I loved Chess’s mother, so I’m confident in Files’ ability to write a female characer). The only character I was a little disappointed with is Ed Morrow, our main POV character. He spends most of his time observing and commenting upon Rook and Chess, so we don’t really get to see much of who he himself is. Files does hint at greater depths inside of him, so hopefully the honourable Mr. Morrow will grow a bit in the next books.
The writing style and structure is what I think will divide the people who read this book into those who like and those who don’t. It’s told in an odd mix of flash backs and present day scenes. I say odd because it feels uneven, like there will be three flashbacks and then a present scene and then a flash back and then five present scenes… Like when your iPod shuffle randomly throws up five songs out of ten by the same band? The flashbacks and present day scenes are not quite randomly placed, but not quite structured either, and it sticks out. The writing itself is highly stylised. I think Files definitely captured the voice of the setting. Think the southern twang that leaps of every page of a Sookie Stackhouse novel, or the British manners of Naomi’s Novik’s Temeraire books. If by the end of a novel I’m reading it in my head with an accent, then the author has been effective.
I will say that some of it got a little confusing for me. All of the Aztec names started to run together, but that’s probably because I am entirely unfamiliar with Aztec legends beyond what I’ve learnt from Mountain Goats albums. And there is a lot of religion. Like, A LOT. Rook’s powers come from the bible, like he reads a phrase and havoc is wrought. (Think turned people into pillars of salt, plagues of locusts, ect). Actually, and this coming from a die hard atheist, I found it be pretty unique and interesting. Normally I can’t stop yawning when reading about characters struggling with their religion and god and what have you, but Files definitely handled it pretty well. And she couldn’t very well have avoided it, with Rook being a once pious Reverend now killing people left and right and enthusiastically sodomising his boyfriend every chance he gets.
It is the first part in a trilogy, and the ending is definitely a first part of a trilogy kind of ending. So if you have the patience you might want to wait until they’re all out, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be snapping the next one up as soon is you can!(less)
I bought one of Mieville’s earlier books, Perdido Street Station, for two reasons: 1) The cover appealed to me, and 2) it was very thick. I was a poor uni student at the time you see, with a very limited book buying budget, so doorstoppers represented much better value.
By the end of the day I’d learned two things about the book: The nice smelling German backpacker who was getting off the train as I got on was a big fan (‘China Meiville! Very cool!’ He exclaimed as he passed me), and 2) the first chapter featured a graphic sex scene between a man and a lady insect.
(The English language doesn’t really have a word for the peculiar sensation of reading about flushed bug gentalia in train surrounded by strangers.)
What can one say about Perdido Street Station? You’ll love it or you’ll hate or, more likely, you’ll love and hate it at exactly the same time. And what more can an author hope for than that?
I found Perdido Street Station to be such an intense and overwhelming read that it put me off China Mevielle a little. Not in a bad way, it was more like when you eat a bar of super dark chocolate and have to go a few days before you can eat some more. Except just replace days with years, because that’s how long it took me to find the strength to return to Mieville’s world of Bas Lag.
I was expecting the Scar to be as draining and awesome and frustrating as Perdido. Original settings wasted on a meandering plot, quirky characters getting a little lost amongst all the chaos, clear and sharp scenes book ended by lengthy blocks of confusing prose. But it seemed, to me at least, that the Scar displayed all that I loved about Perdido Street Station, and discarded all that I didn’t.
Or, to put in another way: I loved every single thing about this book. Seriously. While devouring it I would often set it down, get up from my cosy reading nest in front of the fireplace, find my boyfriend and shout ‘how can this book just keep getting better?’ It’s like it defied some law of literary physics, the way the Scar would just keep ramping up the awesome.
Floating cities and pirates and sea monsters and vampires (vampires!) and mutiny and, and, and, argh! How can one book contain so much awesome? It seems like every time you turn a page in the scar there are ideas that other authors would gladly devote entire works to exploring, but for Mieville it’s all just part of the background. Which is what makes the world of Bas Lag so dense and fun to explore and believable. Yes, believable. A race of mosquito like beings who live in exile because their women folk once took over the world? Believable. A distant land where the upper echelons are undead? Believable. A scar in the sky through which the Gods entered the world eons ago? Believable! And don't even get me started on Uther's crazy ass possibility sword....
The cast is populated with good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things, and you fall in love with some of them despite the awful things they have done, and you feel desperately bad for some them again in spite of the awful things they have done at the end you realise that there is not one character in the book who is wholly without blame for the all the catastrophic bad stuff that goes down. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There are plots and sub plots and sub sub plots and yet the book never feels crowded, and when the book ends there were no loose ends. Consider that for a moment. The Scar features a huge cast, with scads of POV characters, and every single one of them has their own story arc and at the conclusion of the book every one of those arcs has come to a satisfactory (which is not to say happy, no sir) conclusion. It all ends so perfectly that I don’t feel the slightest desire for a sequel. It all ended so perfectly that I actually find the idea of a sequel to be vaguely repulsive.
I’m aware that there are people out there who did not love this book as unreservedly as I did, so if you want to know if this book has any flaws possible you should ask them. In my eyes, the Scar is perfect. (It almost makes me want to reread Perdido Street Station…)(less)
It's never a good sign when you sit down to review a book you finished only a few days ago and realise that you can’t actually remember any of the character’s names. In my head they’ve become ‘the cop dad’ or ‘the teenage daughter,’ which would tell me, if I didn’t already know, that the characters in 'Vacation' lack any kind of depth. They come across like stand ins. As though when the author was sitting down to sketch out his story plan he said ‘ok, so there’s a dad, and he’s a cop,’ and then forgot to go any deeper.
But I know some people are able to enjoy books with flat characters, and so I suspect there are people out there who will enjoy 'Vacation.' It’s an action packed little books, one that you finish really fast even if you weren’t intending to. A cop gets injured on the job and decides to take his family on a holiday, except when they get to the holiday park things are not what they seem.
Oh, and there’s zombies.
‘Vacation’ takes what I couldn’t help but think of as the ‘Feed’ approach to zombies. The story is not about them. They’re an established part of the world, shambling about in the background while the main storyline plays out.
Which is not a criticism. I actually really like this approach. The first few desperate hours following a zombie apocalypse can be thrilling, but I also enjoy reading about societies that have adapted to co-exist with with their new shambling neighbors. This is probably ‘Vacation’s’ strongest point. The zombies have only been around for a decade or so, and while people are holding on you get the impression that things are still getting worse and worse. Fresh food is a real luxury, with most people living off perfectly healthy but unappetizing genetically modified food. I liked the way that the youngest son tends to fixate upon food, as he has never known a world where it was not scarce.
I say that this was the book’s strongest point. A less charitable part of me wants to say it was the books only strong point. The plot is unpredictable only in its predictableness. You think to you self, ‘no, that’s not going to happen it’s way too obvious’ and then it’s a small surprise when the obvious thing actually happens. Again and again.
I think maybe the book should have been longer. They get to the camp and instead of slowly jacking up the feelings of ‘not rightness’ for a few days, let the characters and the reader grow increasingly uneasy, things happen way, way too quickly. The reader isn’t given a chance to get attached to Officer whats-his-name and his family before their lives are in danger, which lowers the suspense considerably (and is another side effect of replacing real characters with cardboard cutouts).
Plus, ok, here is my biggest grievance against this book. I almost didn’t say anything because it verges on nitpicky, but it really spoiled the book for me. Mistakes in the continuity. Glaring ones! In an early chapter the cop refers to his wife as a really light sleeper and she always wakes up when he comes to bed. Then, in a later chapter, he thinks about how he’ll have no trouble sneaking out because his wife is such a heavy sleeper. The one thing this book has going for it is that it barrels along and you get caught up in it, but errors like that bring the whole thing to a screeching halt. I have to go flicking back through the pages to see if I read it wrong, which obviously yanks you right out of the story. And it’s not like that was the only example. At one point the cop thinks that his kid’s screaming is going to get them all killed, then only a few paragraphs later, mere paragraphs for crying out loud, he’s thinking about how proud he was that his kid never made a sound. I mean come on!
But like I said, it’s a quick read. And even though it’s all very obvious what is going to happen and it could have used a more thorough edit, I can’t say that I was ever bored. I would recommend this book to people who don’t care about characters as much as I do, or people who really like zombies in all their forms.(less)
Has anyone here played Final Fantasy XIII? I was super excited for the game, especially given how extremely much I loved XII, but when it finally arrived my anticipation gave way to disappointment really quickly. The game starts out with a really impressive cut scene, (I mean, no matter what negative things you can say about the game, the visuals are really stunning), and when cut scene ends and you take control of the character for, oh, about thirty seconds. Then there’s another cut scene. The character is yours again, for maybe a minute this time and then, yep, cut scene. The game continues like this for way too long, and normally I’m a fan of the cut scene, they’re like sparkly little rewards for all your finger mashing hard work, but when you buy a game you actually want to play it, you know? Otherwise just rent a movie.
Reading ‘Feed’ reminded me of nothing so much as the start of Final Fantasy XIII. The book is all tiny bite sizes piece of actual plot, massive info dump, half a page of character interaction, massive info dump. And it’s not just at the start either, the whole entire book is like that. And it’s not that the info dumps are boring, because they’re actually not. The book, as you’ve probably heard, is set in a future the zombie apocalypse has been and gone and the world has adjusted. I don’t doubt that the “science” behind the outbreak is pure rubbish, it was still really interesting explore the ways society might react to a zombie outbreak in the long term. The over the top security and testing seemed plausible to me, and like I said, it was interesting. The problem is that I don’t buy books to read about hypothetical pet laws and security features- I buy books for the stories. And getting to the story in Feed was an exercise in frustration.
This is only made worse when you realise that the annoying excess of infodumping is actually the best thing about the book. The plot, once you peel all the infodumps away from it, centres around a presidential election and the team of bloggers assigned to covering it. I couldn't have cared less about it. It might cultural thing, my overall apathy to the plot line. Not being an American I don’t quite get the zeal that surrounds presidential elections, and this might explain why I cared so little about what was happening. But that’s not right, is it? After all I’ve never lived in a feudal society, but I can rattle off a long list of books where I’ve cared who makes king or queen very much. I’ve never been a cop, or an assassin, or lived in a post-apocalyptic wasteland or traversed oceans by ship, but I’ve read books that have made me care about these things. That’s kinda the point to books isn’t it?
It all comes down to characters. It doesn’t matter how mundane or alien a plot, if it’s populated with well drawn characters it’s easy to become invested in the outcome. Hell, if China Mieville could make me bawl like a baby over the fate of an insect lady in ‘Perdido Street Station,’ making me give a crap about who becomes president should be easy. And yet, Grant fails hard at it. The two republican candidates in the book are ridiculous caricatures. I mean, these guys are such stereotypes, it’s actually embarrassing. One embodies everything “good” about republican politics, the other represents the worst of it. For a good while I was convinced there must be more to them than meets the eye, that the good guy must be hiding a dark secret, that maybe the bad guy would actually step up and save the day, or something, anything…
Georgia and Shawn, our main characters an adopted siblings, are not much better. I get the feeling we’re supposed to see Georgia as this super star of hard news, fighting in the name truth, justice and the American way. Mostly she just goes on and on about the nobility or the news reporter, and the public’s right to truth. Which, hey, I agree. But to say it gets laid on thick would be an understatement. After the twentieth mention of how bloggers are the new American hero my eyes were sore from rolling too much. And I could never quite get a handle on the relationship between Georgia and Shawn. Are they just a really close brother and sister? Are they sleeping together? I don’t know if the book was making it so ambiguous on purpose, but it really bugged me.
Despite all the negative things I’ve said about this book, I didn’t hate it. The interesting world building, even if it was delivered to the reader via info dump after info dump, was interesting and went a long way in saving the book. I can’t say that I’ll be actively seeking out the sequel, but if I’m ever like, stuck in an airport or something, I would probably pick it up.(less)
Hmmmmm. Did I enjoy this book as much as it’s predecessor, Day By Day Armageddon? Short answer: No. Long answer: also no. Shall I elaborate?
From a technical standpoint you have to concede that Beyond Exile is Day By Day’s superior. Technically. A lot of the “flaws” of the first book are absent here. The problem is, as you may have guessed by my quote marks. Is that I never thought of Day By Day’s flaws as, well, flaws. Did the plot tend to meander, which sudden narrative events coming out of nowhere? Yep. Was the majority of the action described to the reader after it had already happened? Yep again. But as I said in my review of that book, these things gave the novel a uniquely authentic feel. The plot and structure did not adhere to what one would expect from a novel, and as such the book felt like a genuine diary, instead of a book in diary form. This, for me anyway, lent to the book a level of suspense that it might otherwise have lacked.
Beyond Exile, however, reads like somebody took Bourne aside and explained that if he was going to be writing books then he’d best start learning the rules. The result feels very forced. Day by Day meandered, yes, but it felt natural, things happened randomly just like they do in real life. But Beyond Exile has a rather more structured plot, and when reading the book you can feel the author pushing his characters here and there. This neatly robs the book of the genuine diary charm, and without that the story definitely suffers.
And despite all this talk of structured plotting, I actually doubt that Bourne sat down beforehand and plotted this book out. Obviously I don’t know how it went down, but I’d bet money that both books were written in one go with no structured plan, but with Day by Day he was maybe ignorant of the “rules,” and with his sophomore effort a little bit too aware of them.
For example, early in the book a metric crap tonne of new characters (metric crap tonne being the academic term) are introduced and through a few highly coincidental plot twists our still unnamed narrator is put in charge of all of them. But you can practically hear the cogs turning in Bourne’s mind, realising that a man in command of many lives, who orders others to go do dangerous things instead of doing them himself, maybe isn’t the best POV character. But instead of rewriting the plot, he just twists it around until the problem is solved. As I’ve said already, it feels very forced.
But the book is not wholly flawed. A new character is introduced who I found very interesting, an Arab man who teams up with our Hero. Bourne skilfully toys with the reader, making us wonder “is he a terrorist? Isn’t he?” Which, I know, sounds like is could be awful and more than a little offensive, but works really well. I also like how the Hero’s relationship with a character from the first book develops into more, but almost entirely off screen. It gives the impression that there’s a lot more going on in his life than what he puts down on paper.
The ending? Pretty much as non existent as the first, neatly setting up the third book. Will I be reading that book? Yes. But I hope that Bourne develops a little confidence in his writing to write what he wants, and all “rules” be dammed.(less)
Do you know what I hate? When you’re recommending a book to someone, or maybe you’re just telling them what the book you’re currently reading is about, and as soon as you say it’s science fiction or fantasy you get the look. The ‘oh, you like reading that stuff? Mine is a more refined taste.’ Seriously, I hate it. Half the time these people who disregard speculative fiction so readily barely read at all, or they only read what their favourite famous person tells them to, and I’d bet they’d never really tried to read a fantasy novel before.
Yeah, I sure do hate those people. Ignoring that fact that, well, I am one of them. ‘What are you reading?” I might ask. (But I promise I won’t interrupt your reading to ask you because I hate that as well). “Oh,” you’ll reply, “it’s this really good romance-” Whoops, and now I’m giving you the look. Romance? Really? I don’t read that stuff myself…
So you’ll imagine my surprise when a quarter of the way through A Brother’s Price I realised that what I had thought was going to be a light science fiction story was actually a romance novel. I couldn't even justify it and say it was science fiction with a romantic subplot, it was definitely a romance with a science fiction sub plot. It was trashy romance with a thin, wavering science fiction subplot.
If I’m being really honest I would say that apple flavoured bubble gum has more in common with fresh apples than A Brother’s Price does with actual science fiction. Its concept- what if one man was born for every ten woman- doesn’t seem to be more than an excuse to pepper the novel with some of the worst examples of the helpless woman stereotype I have ever seen, except the helpless woman are actually men, so that makes it ok apparently.
The women ride about tending to the land and keeping the law and drinking beer straight from the bottle, while the few men in the book stand about wringing their hands and getting rescued by the women. The female characters are strong and independent, while the males either passively accept what the women say is best (and are thus marked as good), or are prone to tantrums and sulking, (and so we know they are bad). What I’m trying to say is, if Price hadn’t done a gender switch this book would probably offend anyone with half a brain, or else not got published at all.
Even with the gender switch, I’m troubled. Spencer is a decent writer, nothing overly impressive but her words are clear and the plot (what there is of it) cracks along. Her female characters have depth, believable and unique motivations, flaws and scars. So really there’s no excuse for her male characters being such shallow caricatures that always seem to be one shock away from a fit of the vapours. Possibly Spencer was trying to make some kind of cutting social comment that I didn’t catch, but I have a nasty suspicion that she wasn’t doing it intentionally, that it was more of a ‘oh, look, the women are acting like good strong men and the men are wringing their hands like silly woman!’ kind of deal. Which bugs me, actually.
And even if we forgive this, there’s just so much potential here that gets wasted. The base concept is sound, and Spencer does touch upon some interesting implications of a society were men are a scarcity. The world has a sense of real history, with a major civil war that ended only a generation before still effecting the land. The problem is Spencer wastes much of this potential, discarding everything that does not serve the romance between a farmboy and the royal family. I think if the novel had of focused on the farmboy's grandmothers, who we learn were spies in the civil war and kidnapped a prince to be their husband, I suspect this would have been a far better book. Or if we focused on the royal sister Hayley who is AWOL on a mission of revenge for much of the book, or even if the plot between Farmboy and the sisters had have involved more than loving gazes and walks in the gardens, it would have been a better book.
Which I guess is like saying if it were a wholly different book, then I probably would have liked it. If romance is your thing give this one a shot, but just don't tell me because I might give you the look...(less)
I finished this book a while ago, but I’ve held off on writing a review on it. Mostly because I was trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it, because while it’s clear to me that Stina Leicht’s debut and I didn’t connect, I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I think I can confidently say that the issue is between me and the book, and not with the book its self. Blood and Honey has garnered itself a slew of positive reviews across the internet, many from sources I trust.
It was these positive reviews that led me to picking up the book in the first place. When it was first released I gave the blurb a once over and disregarded the book as another urban fantasy, yawn. But then the reviews started coming in, painting the story as something much more. The book is set in 1970's Ireland, an era not exactly known for its stability, and revolves around a young kid called Liam. Liam has a real knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and despite being mostly innocent, can’t seem to keep himself out a string of really nasty prison camps. On top this, and unbeknownst to poor Liam, it turns out that he’s part fae. Part nasty, violent, hard to control, beast shaped fae.
This is a dark, gritty book. Normally when a fantasy novel is described as dark or gritty you might expect a certain kind of style. But 'Of Blood and Honey' is not dark in that over saturated, hyper realized Abercrombie/Tarantino kind of way, it’s dark in a much more realistic, human kind of way. This might be at the root of why this book did not work for me. I make no apologies for the fact that I read to escape and be entertained, and there’s little escapism to be found in a book so deeply rooted in the muck and mire of the real world. Reading, for example, about Jant Shira of Steph Swainstan’s Castle book’s drug addiction was entertaining, reading about Liam’s addiction to heroin was just depressing.
The fantasy aspects of this book were fairly limited. This was a consequence of Liam being in the dark as to his true heritage for almost the whole novel, and I think we’ll see a lot more of the other worldly stuff in the sequels. What we do see certainly held promise. We have the fae and fallen angels at war with each other, and an order of human priest who think all other world creatures are on the same team, and are trying to eradicate them. Often in these books the ‘ancient order” or what have you has all the answers, and probably my favourite aspect the book was watching the priest assigned to watch over Liam trying to figure things out. The fallen angels, what little we see of them, are delightfully creepy.
But as I said, this novel definitely leans more on the urban than it does on the fantasy. Which is another aspect that probably effected my enjoyment. Knowing that the sequel is going to be more fantasy heavy is all well and good, but it doesn’t help with the book I’m reading now.
The characters are well drawn. We see the most of Liam, and he’s likeable enough and well meaning, but also a bit of an idiot. He’s definitely more passive than a usually like my characters to be, he tends to do what others tell him or to react to what others do, instead of ever taking the initiative for himself. The character I liked most, who we saw only little of, was Liam’s fae father Bran. Here’s a character with spark and wit, one who makes things happen. We see glimpses of a fascinating backstory, and more importantly, we get the impression that his current story, playing out almost entirely off page, is even more interesting. At the risk of repeating myself, I think book two is where a lot more of Bran will be seen.
The question is, can I forget how overall meh I found this book enough to pick up the sequel?
I would like to stress one last time that my feelings for this book were hugely subjective. Leicht writes very well, and despite my misgiving I never considered not finishing this book. I think this is one that you’ll have to try for yourself.(less)
There was a time, years ago now, when literally all I read were fantasy trilogies. I enjoyed that the longer format allowed for a story of more epic scope and that there was more time to spend getting to know the characters. But I had this fear of buying the first part of a trilogy, and then not being able to get a hold of the next volumes. (This was before I was able to internet shop, you see). So, if I saw a trilogy that sounded cool more often then not I’d just buy all three books then and there. What can I say? I was still living at home and didn’t have bills to pay.
Which is how I came to own thee parts to K.J. Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, ‘Devices and Desires,’ ‘Evil for Evil,’ and ‘The Escapement.’ I read the first one and a bit of the second and then just kinda stopped, I think possibly uni got in the way? I don’t know, I had a habit of not finishing books back then, for no real reason. (The reading habits of past Megan makes now Megan shake her head). I remember the trilogy, what I read of it, being dense and hard to get through. But in a good way. Like an extremely rich chocolate cake of which you can only eat one sliver at a time. Certainly my memories were positive enough that I recently decided to finish the damn thing, even though it meant rereading the first part again. (This is the reason I doubt I’ll ever complete the Wheel of Time trilogy, I just can’t bring myself to reread 10 volumes…)
My memories were correct, these are not books that lend themselves a fast reading, but as I said, that’s not a bad thing. The books are set on what I would guess is a small continent. On one side we have close neighbours the Vadini and the Eremians, who have only recently ended a centuries long war. On the other side of the continent are the Perpetual Republic, a dark skinned race who settled on the continent relatively recently. These guys are pretty epic engineers and had established a firm monopoly of all metal worked goods. They’re also pretty anal when it comes to deviating from their established blueprints. Think the Church in dark ages if someone tried to deviate from the bible… One guy, Ziani, makes some little improvements on a doll for his daughter and is sentenced to death for it. Pretty harsh, no? So anyway, he escapes to Eremia and sets about crafting an insanely intricate plan to be reunited with his family, and never mind if thousands of bodies are left in his plan's wake.
This is the trilogy’s driving plot which constantly pushes events forwards, but there are a number of other plots which eddy around it. We have the young duke Valens, ruler of the Vadini people, and his technically innocent but really not correspondence with Vetriz, the wife of the Eremian duke, Orsea, who is himself crippled by his own perceived shortcomings. And there’s Psellus, the Perpetual Republic bureaucrat who becomes slowly obsessed with understanding Ziani. And we can’t forget Mikal, an important Eremian nobel who’s honour is so unbending it’s bound to shatter….
And this hasn’t even stretched the surface of it all! If meticulously crafted plots are your thing, than you can really look no further than this. Every event has a cause and effect, with both tragedies and triumphs occurring naturally and with a sense of inevitability. You will find no deux ex machinas in the pages of these books, which is fitting when you consider that the closest any of the main races come to religion is the Perpetual Republic's blind adherence to their specifications.
Which makes for a refreshing change, to read a fantasy trilogy without any gods. I do occasionally enjoy books where the gods take human form and wander about missing shit up (Jenniffer Fallon's 'Demon Child' trilogy being an excellent example), but too often the inclusion of gods/God can become a short cut for the author. In the godless Engineer trilogy each character is responsible for their own lives, with no fate or destiny to nudge them this way or that. It’s a theme that runs strongly throughout the text, questions of choice and how much blame a man (or woman) should take for the result of their actions. Do the ends justify the means, and should an eye be taken for an eye? As I said, without the interference of some all knowing omnipotent presence to offer easy answers, it offers up some fascinating questions. (Which, upon finishing the books, I have answers for).
But of course would what really makes this book appeal to me is the characters. They’re a flawed, three dimensional bunch, and I would be hard pressed to identify which of them are bad guys and which are good. There are no heroes and villains here, just people. My favourite character is easily Duke Valens. Forced to take command after the early death of his father, Valens is an extremely competent and well liked duke. But what we can see that his adoring people can not, is that the guy’s a little bit of a sociopath. I wish that more of the trilogy had been told from Valen’s unique point of view. I also enjoyed watching Psellus's slow transformation from a laughed at pen pusher to, well, I don’t want to give anything away…
I do have some minor quibbles with the ending of the triology. Considering how well rounded the other aspects of the book are I felt that the way the author handled the portrayal of a fourth race, a nomadic people who live beyond the desert, to be, well, I don’t want to say racist, but let’s just say I found it a little problematic. I also had a little trouble buying Ziani's plan, once the whole of it had been revealed, it seemed like some of the stuff he claimed to have figured out and done was just a little bit of a stretch. Lastly, while if you look at the three books as one very long tome is is all balanced perfectly, but if you take each book on its own merits then the second volume suffers from some pretty bad middle book blues.
All in all though I found this to a well written and extremely thought provoking trilogy which offers something very different to the plethora of other three book fantasy tales out there.(less)
First up, a disclaimer: I only made it through all of the first book and a bit of the second book of this trilogy. Which I guess give you a clue about what I thought of it.
Ah Fiona McIntosh, what do I do with you? Our relationship started out so well. I always love reading fantasy by Australian writers, partly because I’m as patriotic as the next gal, but also because it seems to a genre that Australian writers are good at. And certainty the first trilogy I read by McIntosh, The Quickening trio, was true to that. Those books put a nicely original spin on a reliable old fantasy story line, and the characters were complex and the plot well paced. The ending was a little to convenient for my liking, but not enough that it spoiled the books for me.
This was the second trilogy McIntosh had published, so of course I went out and got a hold of her first effort, The Trinity trilogy. It was… not so good. The characters were walking cliché’s and the plot treated logic like an untrustworthy stranger. But I was forgiving, there was such a difference in quality between The Quickening and these books that I simply assumed McIntosh was improving as a writer with every effort.
Having struggled though half the Percheron trilogy before giving up, I’m starting to think maybe The Quickening was a fluke. The Percheron trilogy, or at least the half I read, was terrible. The only positive thing I can think to say about them is that the cover art is truly spectacular. But then I just get all resentful that such poor books get to have such beautiful covers.
Let’s start with the most important element in a book: the characters. We have the Odalisque Ana, the beautiful girl with mysterious ancestry. Did I mention she was beautiful? Little chance of forgetting, as we are reminded almost every time she appears on stage, and other characters are forever stopping to marvel at just how gosh darn beautiful and captivating she is. She is also kind to small children and animals, and when she sees an old lady being ripped off in the street she immediately jumps in and helps her. (The old lady, natch, turns out to be a Goddess in disguise and gives Anna a magical trinket in exchange for her kindness).
We also have the head of the Zar’s security, Lazar (It's not a coincidence and not very clever that his name sounds so much Lazarus...). Lazar and Ana fall in love instantly, even though she’s barely a teenager and he’s well into his thirties when they first meet. Lazar is moody and mysterious and handsome, women want to be with him, men want to be him, etc. He’s also prone to self pity and petulance, but I think this angst is supposed to make us like him more. Spoiler: it does not.
The only character who is not two shades away from being a Mary Sue is Boaz, the young Zar. Unfortunately McIntosh devotes little time to Boez, and while I obviously don’t know how the book progresses it seems to me that we are supposed to dislike him because, gasp, he wants to have sex with Ana! How dare the Zar want to get it on with a member of his own harem, am I right?
And the plot? You could make an excellent drinking game out of it. Every time destiny gets mentioned, drink. I promise you’ll be seeing double before you’re half way through the first book. Characters who are meeting for the first time decide to trust each other because they sense it's destiny. They make huge leaps of understanding not because they uncover information but because they just know, somehow. It’s appallingly lazy writing. Oh, I can’t think of a reason why character A. would reveal his big secret to character B. I’ll just make it destiny!
In the end I announced to my boyfriend that if I read the word destiny one more time I was putting the book down for good. I barely made it another page.
Maybe the final book fully redeemed all of these flaws, but I doubt even Neil Gaiman could salvage something out of it. (I mean, I haven't even touched upon the the rampant Orientalism or Boaz's mother...)(less)
I am definitely a summer person. The cold and I do not get along. I spend all the winter months miserable and complaining, happy only when I'm sitting pretty much on top of a crackling fire with a book. I'm talking three blankets and a hot water bottle and I still can't feel my toes. (Meanwhile on the other side of the bed my fiance is happy with just a sheet. How is this fair?)
And yet, I don't think I know what cold really is. I mean come on, I've spent my whole life in Australia. I've never even seen snow. I think I'm a passing expert on heat, but cold? I'll defer to the crew of the ill-fated Terror on that one.
Spare a thought for these guys. They sailed off in an attempt to find the north west passage fully expecting, and this is the part that blows my mind, they fully expected to be stuck in ice for years of end. Stuck. In ice. For years. The ocean they were sailing through literally starts to freeze and instead of freaking out they're all, 'yup, that's about right.' It wasn't an unpleasant surprise, it was part of the game plan!
Are you kidding me? And that's not even fiction! Dan Simmons' 'The Terror' has its roots in true events. There have existed men who were willing to set out on an expedition fully knowing that they were going to BE TRAPPED IN ICE FOR YEARS AND YEARS WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN?
To me, being ice bound for months with the same men for company and dwindling food supplies would supply enough horror for one book. And Simmons certainly goes to town with it. The pages of The Terror just reek of desperation and boredom and that brittleness that comes from constantly being on the edge of hysteria. And the cold... Reading this book will put a chill in your bones, Simmons captures the oppressive cold so well.
Second in charge Crozier is the man who has to keep the men from killing each other. He's also an alcoholic who has to keep from killing himself when the rum runs out. He also has to worry about the ship which is slowly being crushed by the ice and the food which is spoiling too fast and, there's something else he has to worry about, what was it...
Oh yes. The freaking ICE MONSTER! Not content with fully exploring the unique blend of claustrophobic horror that results from a whole bunch of men, some good men and some not so much, being forced into close and freezing confinement for years, Simmons also throws into the mix an ice monster to pick them off one by one. (I hope that the ice monster is where the true facts end and the fiction begins, but who can say?)
Can you just picture it? Standing on the deck of a ship trapped in ice, your viability is shot, everything is white and cold and you hear a rustle. The wind? Or the ice monster come to eat you? Having read The Terror I can picture this. I can picture it all too well, because Simmons captures the atmosphere of it all perfectly.
The ice monster terrified me. And all the more so because Simmons creates such engaging characters that I really didn't want to see them get eaten. (Well, most of them). Crozier in particular was fantastically done. A deeply flawed man who nevertheless has to hold everything together, even though he knows he's not really up to the job.
As anyone who's ever read a zombie book already knows, the real monster always turns out to be man. And as The Terror progresses and things go from worse to worser, this becomes all too clear. The ice monster is a thing to inspire terror, but it doesn't even come close to the evils men are capable of.
We may never know what happened to the crews of the real Terror and Erebus, but I hope for their sakes that is was a nicer fate than the one Simmons dreamed up for them.(less)
Normally when I’m about to review a book I’ll stare at the screen for a moment and reflect on the plot and characters, and what worked for me and what didn’t. Yeah, that’s pretty much impossible with Yarn. Whenever I think about this book my brain gets bombarded with neon colours and techno music. So I guess you could say that the book made a strong impression, but it’s all rather bewildering.
Bewildering is a good word to describe Yarn. Armstrong doesn’t give the reader even a second to get acclimatized to his setting, it’s BAM! GO from page one. The book is set on what I’m pretty sure is Earth, but way way way in the future. Fashion has become the driving force of everything, and huge cities have been built in the pursuit of it. Top fashion designers are rule like monarchs, and followers of differing styles happily murder each other in the streets. Written out like that it sounds a little ridiculous, but Armstrong flings it all at you with in such a frantic, adrenaline fueled way that you find your self just going with it. There’s no time to stop and think, and it results in an impressively immersive reading experience.
Armstrong labels it fashionpunk, and as much as it bugs me to see the suffix ‘punk’ tacked on to everything, it fits. Fashion is as integral to this world as steam engines are to steam punk, or computers to cyberpunk. Actually, I would say that Armstrong embraces it more fully than many authors do in their respective ‘punk’ genres. It’s most obvious in the book’s slang, which is extensive and fashion related. (Fashioning in place of fucking is one that tickled me for some reason). Armstrong offers no help in deciphering what the hell everyone is saying, and it’s not until quite a ways in that you start getting the hang of the vernacular.
The only thing that stops it from being just too much to deal with is the fact that the main character, Tane Ceder, is as much of an outside as we are. He's just as dumbstuck as the reader, so you feel as though you are least not alone in your confusion. It's an effective technique that stopped me from giving up in the book's early chapters. The book jumps between two time periods, the present in which Tane has become a major designer, and the past wherein Tane, who grew up tending corn, comes to the city for the first time.
The plot is interesting, and manages to not get overwhelmed by the frenetic setting. Actually, the plot is pretty complicated as well. I’ve sitting here for a while trying to sum it up and I just can’t. There are all these seemingly disparate threads (ha, threads, see what I did there?) that come together neatly (and awesomely) at the end. There’s the murder Tane witnesses. There’s conspiracy theories and assassination attempts. There’s the mysterious death of Tane’s father, and what the faceless corporation that owns the sinister cornfields he grew up in has to do with it. There’s the hunt for a banned type of wool which works as a powerful drug. There are gang wars between rival fashion houses. And there’s a love interest, of course, and an adventure in an air balloon made of some fantastic material.
Really, there’s a whole lot of everything. Reading this book was like chugging three cans of red bull and going white water rafting while looking through a kaleidoscope.
Truly insane. And also pretty damn brilliant.(less)
How is it fair that books like, well, I don’t think I need to name any names, I’m sure we can all think of at least one book that defies all laws of good writing and yet still has a huge fanbase. So how is it that books like that, with their sparkling vampires and their last suppers get printed and reprinted and reprinted again, while excellent books like Sarah Monette’s Melusine go out of print?
I had one hell of a time tracking this book down, let me tell you. If it wasn’t for a particularly enthusiastic discussion about it in one of the Goodreads groups I belong to I probably wouldn’t have bothered. And I would have been the one to miss out there, because this really is a very enjoyable read.
The book is told from two separate first person points of view, brothers Felix and Mildmay. It's not so easy, making multiple first person points of view work well. With third person point of view differentiaiting between characters is easy, because you’re naming them ever couple of lines. But you don’t have that luxery in first person. So many books that try to do this whole alternating first person view points thing fail because each character sounded almost exactly the same. This is not even close to being a problem for Monette. Felix and Mildmay are both incredibly distinct characters. The names at the start of each section were wholly unnessary, it was easy to tell within a single line whose head I was in. It seems like such an obvious thing- make your characters seem like different people. And yet so few authors pull it off as well as Monette did here.
Mildmay grew up as a thief on the streets and is now a cat burgler. His voice is ridiculously conversational and engaging, and I don’t doubt that he will be most reader’s favourite. He’s funny, in a cynical kind of way, and good at what he does. But dispite his coolly competent demenour he’s very self conscious, which was actually one thing I really liked about the book. Because Mildmay and Felix don’t meet until halfway through the book, you see Mildmay as Mildmay sees himself. Ugly and scarred. But then when you eventually see him from Felix’s point of view you realise that this is not the case at all. It was just another example of how skillfully Monette’s employed the dual view points.
In contrast to easy to like Mildmay, there is Felix. Handsome and charming, he’s a high ranking wizard and the king’s brother’s lover. His wit is sharp and biting, and while I liked him from the start I think fewer readers will warm to him. He’s just so snarky to everyone. That is, of course, until he goes completely mad.
Because, yeah, for most of the book Felix is completely fucking insane. A spell, and I won’t into anymore detail than that because of spoilers, leaves him mad and presumed guilty of a heinous crime. Which, again, could have really sucked. But Monette manages to walk a fine line between Felix’s madness and still keeping the reader engaged with the plot. It was actually really cool. Felix starts to see various characters as animals, and I had fun trying to figure out which animal was who. I also liked that on one level it was just Felix raving, but if you looked a little deeper you could start to assemble a picture of what was going on. It took a little effort, but I am certainly ok with putting a little effort into my reading, if it's for the right reasons, (like it was here).
I also really, really loved the world building. Different elements of society use different calanders, and different cities subscribe to wildly different kinds of magic. There was a very European feel to the world and it's history, almost like an alternate Venice. I would have liked to have seen more of the world building than what was in this book, but there are three other books in the series so I’m sure I’ll get my way.
The book isn't perfect, but it's definitely one of the better ones I've read this year. It certainly didn't deserve to be treated so poorly by it's publisher. I definitely recommend trying to find a copy of this one. I think it's still available in digital form, so if you've joined the ranks of the advancing ebook armies you'll have an easier time of it. Otherwise, like me, you'll be hitting up ebay and the like. But it's worth it. I promise.(less)
An alternate title for this book would be: Back Story: How to do it right! Somewhat less catchy than The Steel Remains, to be sure. But very, very true. I can’t think of any other books that fills in the back story of it’s characters as seamlessly as this one does. And guys, there’s a lot of back story.
The book is set a decade or so after a huge war, in which previously antagonistic nations had to band together to best an external threat. The narrative follows three hero’s of this war, Ringil, Archeth, and Egar as they each undergo their own little narrative quests which eventually merge into one big one. Ringil must return home, where he is a barely tolerated disgrace (because he’s a *gasp* homosexual!) and try to track down a cousin sold into slavery. Arceth is trying to learn how to work with a new emperor, and is trying to understand her own past. And Egar is struggling to feel content in his role as clan chief, while meanwhile his own brother’s plot to overthrow him.
It’s the kind of book where the back story is integral, where what happened before the story commences is just as important as what’s happening now. Think the first rise of Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, or the overthrow of House Targaryen in A Song of Ice and Fire. However, unlike those two examples, The Steel Remains is a relatively slim book. (Especially when you consider that it’s the first part of a fantasy trilogy… )And yet I have no trouble envisioning the war we never actually see, as though Morgan had spent chapters and chapters re-telling it, (which he does not).
The key, I think, is that Morgan assumes his reader possesses an ounce of intelligence. Such a simple thing, and yet so few authors really get it. You don’t have to spell things out. I know you want to make doubly sure that the reader understands this crucial bit of information, but guys, guys, seriously, you have to trust us! We’ll get it, and we’ll even thank you for making us figure it out ourselves. Isn’t it better to assume that smart people would want to read your book, instead of ones that need their hands held every step of the way?
Consider the three main characters of The Steel Remains, who I have already briefly mentioned. At no point does Morgan come out and say that they’re friends, or that they even know each other, and for much of the book none of their scenes overlap. But we slowly come to realise that all three fought in the war. Egar might briefly recall something that Ringil once said, or Ringil might have cause to think of Archeth, and their thoughts have such a perfect mix of affection and affectionate insult that only true friends can understand, that the reader knows these guys were close. It’s perfectly done, truly perfect.
When you finish this book it feels like you’ve been reading about these characters for twelve epic volumes, so well do you feel you know them. (I wish I could read about them for twelve epic volumes, because they’re a fascinating and entertaining bunch.) When the three are finally reunited it's as emotionally satisfying as if you'd been waiting for that moment to happen for years, instead of just a few hundred pages.
The minor characters are also excellently done. I want to draw particular attention to the Emperor. When first he is introduced I pretty much wrote him off. He's the spoiled son new to the throne, which had been held for many years by his wise father. He's selfish and mean and a terrible, terrible, ruler. Except, uh, maybe he's not? Rarely am I as surprised by a character as I was by this guy. Props to Morgan, for realz.
Morgan’s writing is an excellent mix of humour and darkness. But I don’t want to draw Abercrombie comparisons because it seems like every time a darker fantasy comes along now his name gets dropped. And anyway, I find Morgan’s characters to be real in a way that Abercrombie’s are not, less bleak for bleaks sake perhaps.
It will, I suspect, be a long wait for October and the continuation to this awesome trilogy.(less)
This book was ruined for me by an offhand comment I saw after reading it. ‘Hey,’ the comment said, ‘wouldn’t The Company have been a really awesome horror story?’
And damn it. Because, yes, The Company would have made a truly awesome horror story. Now, instead appreciating it for what it was, all I can think about is what it could have been. Which is stupidly unfair of me. It’s like going to a Chinese restaurant and then getting upset because the food isn’t French enough. It’s not like Miss Peregine’s House of Peculier children which openly promised creepy goodness and delivered nothing of the sort. At no point does The Company claim to be a horror novel, and nowhere have a seen it marketed as such.
And yet… what a horror novel it could have been!
Five guys who were close knit when they fought side beside in a war but have since drifted a part reunite with an ambitious plan to settle on an abandoned island. They hire some servants, find some wives, and set off. We get a few hints about a hurriedly and mysteriously abandoned colony, and seemed a reasonable assumption to make that whatever made the original inhabitants clear out would also come for our heroes.
Except, no. It’s just not that kind of book. The Company is a close study of the relationship between the five men, who were once closer than brothers and have now barely spoken for a decade. They have secrets (of course they have secrets, this is KJ Parker book after all), and it's not long before these secrets start to make things complicated.
Anyone who had read anything by K.J.Parker knows that characters are her strong suite. She excels at creating realistically flawed men and women who are rarely wholly good or wholly bad. And while the five men are the focus of the book, Parker also devotes a lot of attention to their wives, only one of whom was courted and married in the traditional sense. The others were acquired in much the same way as the grain, boots and other things needed for the trip. It makes for some diverse and interesting viewpoints.
But the best part about this book is learning who these men are, what they’ve done and what they mean to each over. Which makes it hard to review because most everything I could discuss is a spoiler. Plot wise not a whole lot actually happens in The Company. It’s split between the present as the men struggle to establish a liveable colony and flashbacks of the war. It was fascinating to see how the dynamics between the men have changed and what has stayed the same over the years. The slow reveal of various secrets and events added more suspense to the book than you might have expected from the thin plot, and there’s a real sense of impending doom that hangs over the whole thing. (*cough* Not unlike as in a horror novel *cough*).
I will say that given the slow build of this novel I thought the ending was way too rushed. It reminded me a bit of Stephen King in that respect, great start great middle, disappointing finish. It wasn’t enough to ruin the book for me though, and if I can ever forgive it for not being a horror novel I’m sure I’ll remember it most fondly.(less)
The problem with loving an unconventional book is that it's so hard to find other books like it. This is the problem with me and Mark Z. Danielewski's 'House of Leaves' (which I swear I'm going to review one day...). I feel like I'm on a constant quest to find books that move in the same circles as 'House of Leaves,' and what books I do find rarely come close. Like Stephen Graham Jones' 'Demon Theory,' for example.
I had really high hopes for this one. The thing I loved most about 'House of Leaves' was the faux film analysis that took up the bulk of it. 'Demon Theory' features a similar conceit. It operates both as an analysis of a fictional horror movie trilogy, but also as a rumination on the history of horror films.
This book has footnotes up the wazoo. Unlike in 'House of Leaves' the footnotes are all factually accurate, and actually really interesting. Well, interesting if you have more than a passing interest in horror and or films, that is. The problem was that instead of being on the bottom of the page, they were all listed in the back of the book. I'm a lazy reader guys, I couldn't be bothered flicking to the back of the book every five minutes. There were a lot of them, but I still think it would have been better to have them in the main text.
But that's a layout thing, and there's every chance that Jones had no control over it. As for what he did have control over... Things start in a promising enough way. It's Halloween, and a bunch o kids are at a party when one of them gets a phone call from his creepy diabetic mother. So it's off to a creepy, middle of nowhere farmhouse! Things, as I'm sure I don't need to tell you, do not go well.
I don't know, maybe it's just that I went into the book expecting (hoping) to find a more subtle creepy brand of horror, but for the most part the over the topness of the books horror elements just had me rolling my eyes. Plus, the characters were insanely two dimensional. Which, ok, on the one hand I get it. Jones clearly went to great lengths to make his trilogy of fake demon movies feel exactly like a classic horror film, which included cardboard characters. But the difference between books and movies is that its just so much easier to create "real" characters in books. I feel like he really missed an opportunity with his mostly forgettable cast.
My other major gripe isn't entirely Jones' fault. I went in to this looking for a 'House of Leaves-esque' experience, and that's not what Jones' was trying to do. But still. 'House of Leaves' did not just offer up a line by line summery of the fake documentary it revolved around. It analysed it, it linked it to philosophic schools thought and compared it to other films and critiqued the film making techniques used. And if that sounds too pretentious and post-modern to be stomached, well, it kinda is. But I loved it! In Demon Theory the three movies it features are just given summaries, with no kind of depth. I feel like Jones wasted the 'analysing a fake movie' gimick a bit. Sure, it helped tie the narrative to the history of horror films that he also had going on, but I just wanted a lot more from it.
The plot of the fake movies themselves started out easy to follow and end up just completely batshit insane. I had almost no idea what was going on by the end, but lets be honest, that's how most horror movie franchises go.
I do think my reaction to this book was heavily influenced by my wish for a second 'House of Leaves.' So if you can go into it "blind," then you might get more out of it than me.(less)
I’m not going to lie, I bought this book for the cover. I didn’t read the blurb, I didn’t read the first page, all of the little steps that bridge the gap between a book and my bookshelves flew out the window in the face of that cover. Knife fights! Blood! Duels! Sounds most excellent to me.
When the book arrived I dared to think I had been rewarded for my rash purchase. The back blurb promised a dystopic future Britain where knife fighting had been legalised and where a giant wall had been erected around the city. Sounds very awesome, yes? At the very least it sounds finishable, and yet I barely made it half way through.
Let start with the book’s main conceit: Knife fighting: it’s legal! Why? Pfft, we don’t need to know a silly little thing like that, do we? And honestly, I would have been happy with minimal explanation of why knife fighting (to the death, mind you) was legal, if we actually got to see some, you know, knife fighting. As I said, I made it to the midway point, and not once had anyone actually had a fight involving knives. There was a lot of posturing and ‘why sir, you have offended me! I demand satisfaction!’ going on, but actual knife fighting? Not so much. I’m not saying that nothing happened, but it did feel like Blackthorne (I vaguely recall that this is a well known author's alias, but can't for the life of me remember who...) completely wasted the potential of his world. Here’s this big brotherish dystopic future London, but not one of the events of the first half of the book couldn’t have taken place in a book set in current day London. What’s the point of cool futuristic setting if you don’t make the most of it? Or at least something of it?
And the giant wall surrounding Britain? Maybe the back cover was referring to a metaphorical giant wall, because no mention of such was made in the book, or at least no mention that I noticed. Admittedly, I could have missed it. Blackthorne's brand of worldbuilding seems to be offhand sentences like, “oh, yes, America has three presidents now” with no explanation or follow up or, worse of all, no real evidence that it effects the characters lives in any way. Or at another point he mentions that because knife fighting is legal hardly anyone owns or uses guns any more. Um, ok? More confusingly is the therapist character (always a sign of memorable characters when they have to be referred to by their profession...), who can possibly read minds or something. Maybe? She does this thing where she talks to her patients and somehow her words just fix whatever is wrong with them, or make them think in a whole new way, like magic. She'll say something like 'you are no longer shy' and bam! no more shyness. But for all intents and purposes Blackthorne has set his book in the “real” world and there are no other hints of supernatural happenings. It’s very strange.
I can accept magic therapy powers, but what I can’t accept is magic therapy powers that the author wants me to believe aren’t magic. Trying to figure it out kept pulling me out of the book. What also kept yanking me out was trying to get a handle on the moods of the characters. Scenes like this took place pretty much every time any of the character’s spoke:
Josh (or John. Possibly Jake) clenched his fists, a scowl crossing his lips, “um, yeah, ok I guess,” he said.
Do you see? His body language suggests angry alpha male, his words suggest meek submissive dude. The dialogue in this book was consistently like this, completely at odds with the context of the scene. It’s pretty much impossible to lose yourself in a book when your jarred out the story every couple of pages, you know?
Having not finished the book, I can not say if these faults are with it the whole way through. There’s a chance the last half is one long knife fighting blood bath, but even the possibility of that wasn’t enough to let me ignore its flaws and keep forcing myself through it.(less)
I think this book falls firmly into the category of definitely not for me. While I can objectively see why others like it (and I am sure my sister will go nuts for it when I lend it to her) it didn’t really do much for me, and I don’t see myself continuing with the series.
Why did I even pick this book up? I want to say its because the plot sounded interesting, because it does. A centuries old woman who has been raised to serve vampires and feed them her high quality blood must flee to the “real” world when her patron/owner is found murdered. Here she teams up with an exiled and cursed noble vampire to prove her innocence. I mean, it’s not groundbreaking as plots go, but in the rights hands there was a lot of potential there. But even though I want to claim it was the plot that drew me to this book, if I’m being honest I think I have to admit it was the cover.
Blacks, greys and muted gold and that shock of bright blood red. Really striking. It’s sensual and gothic and really drew me in. I was imagining a rich, dark tale to match the cover, something like Anne Rice’s early Vampire books, or Lianni Taylor’s more recent ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone.’ Something stepped in atmosphere and personality.
Yeah… I was sorely disappointed. Despite being set in the future ‘Blood Rights’ rarely feels like anything but present day. Aside from a few token gadgets, technology has barely advanced. And despite the fact that our setting is “New Florida,” and at one point we visit a Iranian controlled Paris, there is no difference in the way society is presented compared to present day. Did you ever go to a high school play and the sets were obviously from a different production with a few token changes made? It’s like that- like the the book was originally set “now” and at the last minute Painter made some purely cosmetic changes to make it more “later.”
It also feels overwhelmingly American. Which, ok, a solid chunk of it is set in America. But a goodly amount is also set in Europe, and these scenes are no different from the American based ones. I didn’t even realise that the vampire sections of the book were European based until a character explicitly mentions it. And our main character, Chrysabell, has lived her whole life in Europe. Yet she comes across as just another all American heroine. And not just that- she’s grown up with no modern technologies, and yet being suddenly thrust into modern American society doesn’t seem to faze her at all. And lets not forget that she’s supposedly 150 years old, yet acts just like someone in her mid twenties. You can’t just say things are so in a book, you have to actually show them to be so as well!
It made the whole book feel bland and shallow.
This was my main complaint with the book. The characters are nothing new, especially if you’ve read any other urban fantasy novel before, but they’re not terrible. The overall thin plot is ridiculously stretched out and the “twist” is easy enough to see coming, but again, it’s serviceable. The problem is I’ve never been a huge fan of urban fantasy, and this book (despite what I’d hoped) is pretty much a standard, by the books, example of the genre.
Like I said, I’m sure others will really like it- I can even see why. But it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.(less)